PHOENIX -- Even Clayton Kershaw has to wear a hard hat to work every once in a while.
One day his team will send Kershaw on his way to a runaway victory, but the Dodgers' 3-2 triumph to close out a series at Arizona, and a two-city road trip, was a case of the team needing every last drop from one of the best pitchers the game has seen.
Afterward he took it all in stride, telling a joke, even though he seemed far from a laughing mood during the game when his emotions appeared heightened.
"It was fine," Kershaw said of the outing, giving the Dodgers 13 victories in his 14 starts. "Obviously [Scott] Van Slyke hits that huge home run right there and you just can't give up a run [back] after that so I was pretty upset about that. You have to have a shutdown inning right there. I gave them one back, probably to make them feel like they're still in it."
Then for a split second, time stood still. Nobody in Kershaw's audience laughed. There was nary a chuckle. Maybe everybody listening thought it was completely plausible that a three-time Cy Young Award winner, in the midst of another Cy Young season, really is capable of a strategy that lulls his opponents into a false sense of security by making them feel they are doing better than they actually are.
Kershaw even paused, then got right back on subject without waiting for another question.
"I left some sliders up today," he said. "I left a 2-0 one up to [Paul] Goldschmidt, obviously, and thankfully that one didn't go out of the park. The same thing with [Welington] Castillo. Just a couple of balls where some sliders were left up today. But it was OK overall."
How do you define "OK" in Kershaw-speak?
He delivered 11 strikeouts, and the one walk he gave up was coaxed by Yasmany Tomas, on an extremely questionable call from plate umpire Sam Holbrook. It was only the 16th walk all season for Tomas. For Kershaw, it was just his seventh free pass all season.
But that was just the frame to a far more intricate work of abstract art inside.
Kershaw not only gave up a second-inning home run to the Diamondbacks' Rickie Weeks Jr., it was actually one of two extra-base hits Weeks delivered. Weeks is now tied with Adam Dunn for most extra-base hits off Kershaw (six).
And had Goldschmidt's drive in the bottom of the sixth inning been two inches higher, the story of the day would have unfolded on a much different arc. Instead, Goldschmidt's hit bounced off the top of the wall for one run instead of a two-run home run, and the Dodgers' maintained their lead.
Despite his brilliance this season, it never does seem easy for Kershaw. His 104-pitch effort over 7⅓ innings was just enough for a series victory. In San Francisco last week, the Dodgers needed every bit of his eight-inning, 13-strikeout performance to finish off another 3-2 victory.
If Kershaw were a roofer, the day would always be 100 degrees, the house would always be three-story and the ladder would be broken. But he finds a way to lay down the shingles.
"You know what, Clayton saw that we needed to win a series and came with that usual intensity and intent," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "To give us seven-plus, punch out 11, walk one, [and one home run] that Rickie got on a fastball, but outside of that, Clayton was Clayton."
Yet for all his intensity, his fist clenches, his stares toward home when the calls didn't go his way, his arm swings and his demonstrative footwork, Kershaw didn't fight it when Roberts took him out of the game after striking out Michael Bourn for the first out of the eighth inning.
"That was predetermined," Kershaw said. "I think I might have been done after seven actually, but just with Bourn coming up, the lefty, I figured I'd get one batter there. So top of the order, fourth time through, with Joe [Blanton] throwing it the way he's throwing it, we're fairly confident right there we had the right guys in that situation."
Roberts added that with Kershaw coming off an eight-inning, 108-pitch performance in San Francisco on Friday night, leading into Wednesday's daytime affair, he wasn't going to push things.
Afterward, Kershaw reflected on his animated afternoon.
"I was too emotional today," he said. "I was hopped up. I was screaming and jumping. It doesn't look good and I was trying not to do that obviously. But emotions get the best of you at times and today. I was a little too animated for my liking so I need to calm myself down a little more, for sure."
Was it the must-win situation? Was it the umpire? Was it pitching in yet another tight game? Was it the fact that all eyes are always trained upon one of baseball's best at the height of his powers?
"I don't know," Kershaw said. "Too much Red Bull or something."